The process of spiritual growth—which is at the center of the entire discipleship conversation—is entirely driven by God. What we do in that process is very simple: we choose to remain engaged, allowing God to transform us.
During this week’s study of how God defines us, we’ve spent time in these additional resources looking at the ways in which He leads us into a life with purpose. In this segment, we’re going to put some legs on the process, helping to define how we actually do this, by looking specifically at what the apostle Paul wrote about himself.
Here are two passages of Scripture in which the apostle describes his own personal experience:
“All the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I've dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. I didn't want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ—God's righteousness. . . . Friends, don't get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I've got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I'm off and running, and I'm not turning back” (Phil. 3:8, 9, 13, 14, The Message)
“The time of my death is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:6-8, NLT).
The process. The first statement describes the process under which a growing Christian operates. Notice several significant elements:
1. Paul speaks of the attractions of sin as “gone from my life,” which he goes on to explain as a choice he is making each day, not some miracle of transformation. God is transforming him, but He is doing it one day at a time.
2. Specifically, Paul speaks of the battle he faces each day, in which he establishes and then reestablishes priorities (choosing Jesus over everything else), and then acts on those priorities.
3. He refutes the idea that he has achieved “perfection,” and replaces it with the concept of “keeping his eyes on the goal.”
4. Finally, he introduces the key element in the faith process: forgetting the past and choosing to focus on the future.
The assurance. In the second statement, Paul affirms that he is near the end of his life and that he now understands several important things:
1. He has “fought the good fight,” which is to say he has remained engaged, resisting the temptation we all have to abandon the fight and give in to discouragement or despair. While salvation is a gift—always, absolutely and never deserved—it changes us, calling forth from us a desire to remain engaged with God in revealing to the world what it really means to be a Christian.
2. He further claims to have “finished the race,” and “remained faithful,” implying that he understands clearly the nature of the effort, that it is not about “winning,” as much as clinging to Jesus in faith.
3. Finally, he speaks about the “prize” he anticipates, but his language reveals that he understands fully that it is something to be “awarded” to him by the Lord, when all is said and done—something that comes entirely from the Lord as an expression of His grace.
The process of spiritual growth—which is at the center of the entire discipleship conversation—is entirely driven by God. What we do in that process is very simple: we choose to remain engaged, allowing God to transform us. We don’t “make it happen,” but we do “choose for it to happen,” and allow God to do the work. We do this with a full awareness that we will stumble and fall along the way, knowing that God is walking the path with us, and is eager to pick us up, brush us off, and encourage us to keep going, allowing Him to complete His work.*